Over the weekend I read a Huffington Post blog by B.J. Epstein about gays who are against gay marriage. As I read it, I bristled with irritation. Who is she to say what an individual can and can't think? Is she a gay man? Does her position as a literature professor make her uniquely qualified to dictate who can say or believe what?
I shuddered when I read one of the closing remarks. She made the astonishingly contradictory statement that "having freedom of choice means that we give people options and respect their decisions - but they shouldn't argue against or stand in the way of gay-marriage-supporting gays". How can you respect someone's opinion and then say that that person should keep their that opinion to themselves? The sentence just doesn't make sense. In fact, it's the sort of thing you could imagine some character in Orwell's 1984 saying. "You can think this but you cannot think this".
I felt I had to respond to Epstein, not so much about her arguments, but more because I found it frustrating that she in effect told people who question the mainstream to shut up and keep their views to themselves. So here is my response, firstly on gay marriage and then on her article.
Not being deeply religious, I find it hard to understand why those who are find gay marriage so terrifying. According to the standard religious view, gays marrying gays will trigger the collapse of modern society. Aside from being a tad dramatic, I have to say I find this quite an odd claim. When I think of myself as some sort of harbinger of doom, I'm a bit taken aback. I spend most of my time worrying about my flowerboxes or coming up with ideas for blog posts, not plotting the downfall of western democracy. A far greater threat to modern society seems to be the total absence of love and respect between individuals, which is an issue in both the gay and straight worlds.
Another argument is that gay marriage is condoning an unnatural lifestyle. Aside from the presence of gay monkeys, gay penguins and gay dolphins in the natural world, I find this to be another odd one. I spent much of my teenage life desperately trying to make myself straight. I won't go into details, but I can assure anyone reading this that it was an abject failure and completely miserable. I don't really care if I am gay because of my DNA or my divorced parents. I tried to make myself not gay, and failed. Therefore for me, being gay is my natural state.
I had a quick glance in the Bible to see what exactly the Pope and the Archbishop are basing their assertions on, that homosexuality is sinful and condoning it is a bad idea. A single passage (Romans 1:24-27) by Paul appears to be where the whole position emanates from. He was writing to the Romans of the 1st Century, suggesting that getting drunk, having sex with anything that moved and obsessing about fame, wealth and power were not recipes for happiness. To be honest, if you look at the state of the western world today, I can't help but think Saint Paul would probably see some parallels.
The gay world is characterised by promiscuity and a lax attitude towards partying, something that we, as gays, need to acknowledge. But that is not the entire gay world. What Paul saw in first century Rome is visible today in New York, London or Berlin. I've been to the gay scenes in these places and can assure anyone who hasn't that they are indeed 'worldly' places. But these places also exist in the straight world. Gays do not have ownership rights over promiscuity and drug abuse.
Furthermore, all people, gay or straight, are capable of love. And all people are capable of spiritual as well as material union. The latter is what I think Paul was criticising, not the former, which is what we should all aspire to. Marriage has changed, whether you like it or not. And If the starting point is that religious marriage is a recognition by whichever god you believe in of a spiritual connection between two individuals, then I think this is something that religious people could maybe accept.
With regard to Epstein's article, I have to say I think her line of argument is a major part of what is holding back full equality for gays. I find the notion of forcing a group of people to accept a view they do not agree with a horrifying one. I do not believe a church should be forced to marry people they do not want to, even if its policy may seem old-fashioned or bigoted. That change in stance has to come from within the church itself, otherwise it is a disturbing expression of totalitarianism. I also do not believe a church should prevent other people from marrying other people if they want to. We live in a liberal democracy where such beliefs should be tolerated.
If you want people to change their minds about something, then sit down and chat with them. It's easy to insult a group of people or a category via a blog post or a carefully-crafted tweet on the Internet. It is harder to do so if you are sat in front of them having a cup of tea. Those who do not like the idea of gay marriage are perfectly entitled to that view, regardless of whether you think it is palatable or not. To be honest, if all a religious person knows of the gay world is that it is characterised by sex and partying, which it often is, then who can blame them? The onus is on us, as gay men, to show that it is more than these things and that their fears of moral decline and collapse are unfounded.
So, Professor Epstein, rather than write off the views of millions of individuals, how about we organise a polite meeting with yourself (a frustrated gay rights activist), me (a slightly conflicted 26-year-old gay), the vicar from my mum's village (a very pleasant ex-army man) and a few randomly selected people off the street? I suspect it would be an interesting discussion and infinitely more productive than a rather snide blog post.